Checking a New Property for Noise

New Property Noise – Prospective Home Buyers or Renters

Our noise surveys have shown that living in close proximity to neighbours is likely to increase your chances of suffering from noise problems. With more and more properties being squeezed into smaller spaces and the country becoming increasingly populated we all need to be wise to new property noise when renting or buying property.

When reading an article on noise nuisance I noted the sage advice “check out the area before you buy”. Similar advice is given by a number of housing advisors. Seems obvious doesn’t it? Sure it does, but you’d be surprised at how many people do not do their research. Noise is one of the top FIVE bugbears for home buyers or renters and the no.1 source of complaints for local Councils. A few simple checks can help minimise the risks.


Go and visit the area where you are proposing to live. Survey the immediate and surrounding vicinity. What are the potential noise sources for new property noise?

  • Do the neighbours have dogs?
  • Is it located next to commercial or industrial buildings or land?
  • Is it near to a busy road, railway or on a flightpath?
  • Do students occupy property next door?
  • Will anything attract people to congregate (e.g. playground or community centre)?
  • Do the neighbours look anti-social (e.g. congregating refuse or unkempt property)?

Visit at different times of the day and night (or late evening) and make some observations (without snooping!). Weekends can also make a difference in some cases. When it comes to flightpaths you also need to be clear about wind-direction and mixed paths (some areas can be silent for days before the routes are changed).

Consider seasonal changes as well. Whilst that pub may be silent in winter, it may maximise the outdoor space throughout the summer in order to stay open. Gardens are a regular cause for concern; as are smokers on the street at night.

You can research further by looking at planning restrictions or case histories associated with commercial or industrial property. Find out how many noise complaints have been received by your local Council’s environmental health department and ask about planning restrictions such as times and conditions with the planning departments. Remember though, situations can change; land can be redeveloped and businesses change hands.

Finally, make a viewing of the property; as many times as possible. This is usually arranged through an estate agent or managing agent of the landlord.


Let’s say that you’ve found your dream property but there are some warning signs apparent. Consider whether there are any practical measures that may be taken to reduce the impact of any noise. Improvements in flats may be a possible solution, for example, to tackle internal issues associated with poor sound insulation. Double glazing may help reduce impacts from transportation noise or busy high streets (although ventilation and being able to open a window are also important).

How long are you going to live there and why have you chosen that area? If it is a short-term let it will clearly be less important than a home where you wish to retire or bring up children. If you are buying a property with a view to refurbishment you may also consider altering internal or external arrangements (e.g. move bedrooms around or screen an outdoor area.

Who is Most Likely to Complain About Noise?

Who is most likely to complain about noise?

This article provides some more information about the people who complain about noise. We’ve provided plenty of information previously, following our noise surveys, that highlights the problems that people in densely populated areas suffer with. More recently we looked into the age and gender profiles of people using our services online.

The collection of community data has taken place for millennia, in the form of censuses, and used to shape public services. In the same way, local and national demographic data on nuisances can help organisations that respond to noise issues target resources and improve outcomes. As well as geographical noise hotspots, it can be useful to help determine whether certain groups are unable to access noise services or those who most frequently use them. Local authorities and social housing providers can, in particular, use the information to act proactively in preventing noise, in planning to prevent noise impacts or in the development of housing policies or strategy.

Analysis of Age and Gender

The following results were found in relation to age groups. There is a dramatic rise in enquiries from those based in the 55-64 year age group; with, broadly speaking, demand for services rising with age (and apparently it is not because older people are more grumpy).

age differences in noise issues

A significantly larger proportion of females requested services over males.

gender differences in noise complaints

Digital Exclusion and Access to Noise Services

We know that the following groups are more likely to be digitally excluded:

  • Those in social housing
  • The unemployed
  • Older people

We also know that these are the very people who are more likely to be affected by noise pollution. This may explain why our figures show the percentage of those people accessing our services tail off in the 65+ age group; although research has also shown that older people are less likely to complain.

Much of the communication carried out by local enforcement bodies is carried out via email. There have also been amazing innovations like the noise app that help sufferers to tackle noise issues. A key message for public services therefore has to be that, whilst digital services can enhance and empower communities significantly, they must consider how they will support particular groups whose access to the web is restricted.

Read more about our noise research.

Planning for Noise is Child’s Play

Planning for Noisy Children

We regularly receive enquiries citing concerns about childrens’ play areas and noisy children; including outdoor sports areas, playgrounds and, even, nurseries. ‘The sound of from children playing – what could be so terrible about that?’ you may ask. Well, nothing in itself, but if a well-meaning local Councillor decided that a skate-park should be built next to your garden or if you were to be subject to the cries of up to 50 babies and toddlers from the nursery next door all day, you’d be naïve to think that it could not impact in some way on your home life.

Most complaints are initiated by a change in circumstances, a change in land use or, perhaps, the installation of new equipment. The first step in planning any change in land use or development is to ensure that it is located in a suitable location; after which the changes made need to be designed in such a way that minimises the chances of negative impacts to neighbours. It’s orientation, size, capacity and any measures to mitigate noise should be thought about at the design stage; not forgetting  detail about how is to be supervised, staffed or maintained. In many cases the distance between such facilities and noise-sensitive premises has not provided adequate separation. The level of technicality in any noise assessment depends upon the nature and scale of the development.

MUGAs and Noise

Whilst the use of ‘organised’ (often privately run) sports facilities can be limited by times of operation many public access games areas or children’s playgrounds are open throughout the day and, sometimes, at night when crime and anti-social behaviour can be a significant issue. “Multi-use Games Areas” (MUGAs) have been a popular addition alongside new developments or to support areas with high levels of social housing and promote healthy living. However, such facilities present, (sometimes insurmountable) problems associated with noise, opening hours and lighting. Sound barriers, as a last resort, are also often impractical due to security concerns and ease of access. Amongst other considerations distance is key.

Noise from Pubs and Play Areas

There is a growing trend for (sometimes extensive) play equipment to be installed in pub gardens in order to attract families. Any opportunity for increasing sales of food and drink is important in this sector; who often benefit over restaurants by having access to larger outdoor dining areas. Pub companies can sometimes overlook the consequences of installing playgrounds near to neighbouring residential properties; where they can be used every day throughout the summer and often until late into the evening. Many fail to apply for the required planning permission.

Noise and Nurseries

In the 2000’s there was a large increase in the number of private childcare establishments that gained planning permission. The boom in the sector supported a rapidly growing demand for spaces. Unfortunately, some were not well situated; being located, for example, in terraced houses or next to noise sensitive properties. The opportunity for highlighting concerns about noise is at the planning stage when unreasonable changes can be prevented; after which the problem becomes more difficult to control. Unlike schools nurseries tend to operate all year round without the respite provided by holidays. Nurseries also tend to have much smaller outdoor areas that are used at different times by different age-groups of children from anytime up to 6pm.

Careful Planning is Key to Tolerance

It would be easy to suggest that a growth in such complaints is an indication that we are becoming a less tolerant society. Not necessarily. Our population has grown by 10 million in the last few decades; and we are increasingly living in more densely populated spaces. If we are to maintain healthy lifestyles, have sufficient access to childcare facilities and ensure that businesses are able to compete, there will continue to be a demand for such facilities. The above examples demonstrate though, once again, that good planning and design must underpin any proposed change in use.

A Night Out with the Noise Police

A Night Out with the Noise Police

We recently spent a night out with the noise police (or as they are more accurately referred to the “environmental health officers”) on one of their weekend night shifts. We joined them in a predominantly urban local authority area in the south of England (Glasgow have also made account of their own experience). Fewer Councils offer evening and weekend response services due to local authority cuts; a tiny minority work shifts. However, all have to operate some form of service, however limited that may be. You can find your Council service here.

At around 9pm our officer logs on in the office to his PC and does what most office workers do as they start their working day; sips on coffee whilst checking his emails. Unlike many others though, Jeremy has already worked a full week of daytime shifts including today’s, Friday. A handful of officers take turns to operate the weekend “out-of-hours” service alongside their day-jobs; which involve a broader spectrum of responsibilities including pubic health protection, safety inspections and air pollution monitoring.

Amongst the e-mails there are some requests for consultations from the planning department and some licensing applications but these will probably have to wait until next week. It’s the weekend now and, he says, the priority will be responding to call-outs from people suffering from noise. If no calls come in straight away there are some visits listed  for ongoing issues, including problems with a couple of bars. Later on, he explains, there are two late-night takeaways that seem to be the focus of anti-social behaviour in the early hours; “if we get the chance, a drive-by would be useful”.

The phone doesn’t take long to light up. Whilst his colleague takes the details, Jeremy explains that, unless there is a serious noise disturbance or an alarm that’s keeping up the neighbourhood, each call is responded to in turn. “How would you know if it is serious?” I ask. “Many you don’t but if a bunch of calls come in about the same place there’s a good chance its disturbing a lot of people”.

First Shout

Off we go to our first call; one of the officers has been here before. We arrive at a property where the occupant is complaining about noises from upstairs; both flats are tenanted. Before we approach the officer explains how we were to approach the property and instructs me where I should stand once we are inside (next to the exit, which I need to ensure is kept open; where are they taking me I wonder?!). The occupant comes to the front door and the officers insist on him going up the stairs first. The man complains of “humming” noises being made deliberately to antagonise him. He whispers “they are recording everything we say”. Even from the bottom of the stairs the situation seems a little strange. However, the officers give the occupant the respect he deserves and, after five minutes or so, we leave the property. We note that the flat being complained of is in darkness; perhaps the occupants have gone to sleep.

The visit prompts me to ask about the sort of people who they meet. A broad spectrum; it could be anyone, rich or poor. Alcohol and drug issues have always influenced their workload; and they both feel that they encounter more people with mental health issues nowadays than when they started their careers. Their perception is that occupants are encountered more often now in social housing tenancies and wonder whether that is because there is a lack of supported housing. The conversation is cut short by the telephone and off we go to our next visit.

The Noisy Party

A little way into the shift and our sixth telephone call is received; a noisy party. They explain to the complainants that they will intervene and try to resolve the problem. As we arrive it is not hard to see where the party is happening; plenty of people on the street and what must be a pretty big sound system thumping out dance music from a marquee in the back garden. After asking a few guests they contact the occupier who bolts angrily up to the door.

“Who the f***are you?!” and, before the officers can answer, “We told all the neighbours we were having a party and we never have parties”.

“Probably not the ones on the street behind you and the one behind that, which is where we have got complaints from.” The officer waits for a gap in the rebuttal but remains calm. “We are not here to spoil your night. Its 11.30pm so what I would suggest is that you bring the music inside now and bring the level down. In half an hour (at midnight) we then expect the party to take place inside, not outside”.

With some encouragement from his partner the householder reluctantly backs down.
We hang around outside and, to my surprise, the sound level goes down. Jeremy explains that some of the residents often don’t appreciate why having a live band or disco in the back garden might not be such a good idea. The residents of the larger properties, he says, can be just as difficult as any other. These guys have heard it all before: ‘Do you know who I am?’, ‘I pay your wages’, ‘You can’t tell me what to do’, ‘I know my rights’ and, not to mention, the verbal abuse.

Noisy Nightlife

Soon after, at midnight, we are stood in a property overlooking part of the town-centre’s commercial area; where there are a handful of bars and pubs. The person complaining of music noise from the bar across the street. The music is just about audible but not intrusive. Jeremy explains that the noise is not loud enough to constitute a nuisance. The occupant is not happy with the response.

“This is a residential area. Why should we have to hear their music every weekend?!” he says.
“This is town centre and, as such, we can’t expect there to be silence”. Jeremy explains to the occupant that there has to be a bit of give and take but leaves the door open by suggesting that they make other visits.

Noise from music venues has been a hot topic for some time now with some blaming overzealous officials for the trade’s demise but these officers, at least, seem to be keen to strike a balance. “None of the premises have later than a 1am licence and it’s already started to quieten down. We are not here to kill off trade, as long as its not to loud and they are acting reasonably then there is little we should do.”As we travel back through the high street we come to one of the takeaways that they planned monitoring; a popular kebab shop. Inside are a few customers. The officers remark that it is unusually quiet but explain that the drizzle started in the last half hour will probably had an effect on the remainder of the partying this evening, “Noise can be a bit like cricket where rain stops play”. I am picking up a sense of relief.

Back to Treble or Base

No sooner are we at one call-out when another comes through on the mobile phone which results in another visit to the other side of the Borough. During the shift we receive 16 calls. We make 8 visits made and barely enough time to swig back a cup of coffee.

Back at base Jeremy explains that all these calls generate paperwork and need to be entered onto our database along with our investigation notes. “I’ll either do this tomorrow from home or leave it until first thing Monday morning. We can then look at each case and see if any warrant any further action”. He notes that there is also a witness statement to write and information to be forwarded to the local housing association. It is past 4am and time to clock-off. However, Jeremy logs on to his computer to email the officers serving on tomorrow’s shift to warn them about one of the properties we visited and action taken just in case they receive a call tomorrow.

Its been an interesting night with the officers who I found to be a really reasonable pair of guys working under some quite difficult circumstances; and far from being the so-called “party-poopers” one might expect of the “noise police”. We walk outside and, keen to get home to bed, say our goodbyes quickly. Its nearly dawn and I notice that the birds have started to make their own noise.

Guide to Live and Amplified Music

Live Music Noise

There have been a number of locally or nationally focused noise control guidance documents produced over the years concerned with live music noise. Some came about to serve a demand for guidance in the assessment and control of noise from premises such as pubs and clubs. One or two others were intended to provide a guide to the control of noise from events such as those from festivals or concerts. Many now lack the flexibility necessary to address the diverse set of situations and variable characteristics presented by the music and entertainment industries.

Much of the older practice guidance still in place has not kept in step with modern legislation and will, for example, have been published prior to the Licensing Act, Live Music Act and amendments to the Noise Act coming into force. Whilst a lot of the information contained in these guides remains relevant, some content is no longer in line with current thinking on noise control and modern legislative mechanisms in place; including the need to promote cultural experiences and adopt a risk based approach to the regulation of live music.

Local regulators are faced with a wide variety of potential music venues (including pubs and clubs as well as larger venues) being carried out by people with varying degrees of expertise in noise control and acoustics. A simple risk rating system applying to all activities involving amplified or live music would allow the noise risk in that operation or proposal to be quantified quickly and easily. By identifying the level of risk associated with the operation, if necessary, appropriate noise control measures may then be drawn up and implemented. Thankfully, this guide provides such a solution.

Aimed at operators and local authority enforcement officers, this guide provides a risk based guide to the control of live and amplified music.

Get Your Copy Now

It may be used as a starting point when considering live music proposals and the necessity for noise controls.

It is suitable for music operators, pubs, clubs, events organisers, environmental health officers, licensing officers and licensing solicitors.

Noise at Night-time

Out of Office Hours – Noise at Night-time

Many people who come to us for help suffer from noise at night-time; be it due to the noisy neighbour, misfiring intruder alarm or noisy pub. As such, many noise issues don’t fit into the 9 to 5 office hours pattern that public services tend to keep.

Unlike the emergency services, and some health and social services teams, local government and housing associations are generally most active in the day-time. There are some Councils who field 24 hour response teams, generally larger city areas, and some who provide weekend noise services. However, at a time when resources have diminished the number of Councils able to provide permanent services during the evenings, nights and weekends are a minority. That is not to say that all local authorities should be expected to field a 24 hour service for noise; this would clearly be beyond the need or capability of many.

So what should they be doing and what level of service would be deemed acceptable?

The law is clear. Local authorities have a duty to investigate allegations of statutory nuisance that are put to them. Whilst they do not always have to witness the noise directly themselves (in the flesh) it is recommended that they do so in order to secure the strength of their evidence (after all, the enforcement action they take may always be appealed). There are ways to respond to noise cases though and prioritise problems that are perceived as “higher risk” (more likely to be a problem). In our tutorial (see our Resources) we explain how you get categorised as being in the high risk bracket and how you can get the investigating officer focused on your noise complaint.

Without a dedicated out-of-hours service to witness noise at night-time the way the investigators will respond to individuals will depend upon differing circumstances. Smaller teams (generally made up of a handful of officers with other responsibilities) may organise themselves in a variety of ways, including:

  • Weekly on-call rotas for priority cases;
  • Weekend noise call-out service (focused on the busy Friday and Saturday nights);
  • Summer services;
  • A series of planned visits for priority cases; and
  • Organised visits to monitor ongoing problems (such as with commercial noise).

If you are unhappy with the service provided by your local authority and feel that they can take, or could have taken, action to help we have some more detailed guidance in our member service. Find out more about what times noise may be deemed unacceptable.

Nuisance Neighbours – Myth Busting

Nuisance Neighbours – Myth Busting

Here we have listed some of the myths that are often banded about or repeated in relation to nuisance neighbours and the action taken by investigators.

  1. The noise or nuisance needs to affect more than one household. NOT TRUE! Only one person need be affected by an unreasonable situation.
  2. The noise has to exceed a certain decibel level for action to be taken. NOT TRUE! Most of the time a sound level meter isn’t even used.
  3. If I can hear the noise, investigators can take action. NOT TRUE! Just because it is audible doesn’t mean the person responsible is being unreasonable.
  4. If you create excessive noise you are breaking the law. NOT TRUE! Normally it is not until a formal notice is breached when an offence will have been committed.
  5. Construction work can only take place in the daytime hours. NOT TRUE! It can take place at any time unless it is formally restricted by the local authority.
  6. The Council have told me they can’t investigate my nuisance complaint. NOT TRUE! They have a legal duty to investigate all allegations of nuisance.
  7. The landlord said they couldn’t evict the neighbours because of human rights. NOT TRUE! You have rights too; it is not correct that one party’s rights trample another’s.
  8. I can’t do anything about the business next door because they have a licence and planning permission. NOT TRUE! These are unconnected; and, in any case, a licence can be challenged.
  9. I moved into a property next to a noisy business so I guess I have to put up with it. NOT TRUE! Action can be taken if they are not taking reasonable measures to protect you.
  10. Action can only be taken over noise that happens at night. NOT TRUE! Nuisances can exist at any time, even at low levels.

Find out what the most common mistakes are when attempting to get your noise complaint sorted.

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When Neighbour Noise Leads to Violence

When Neighbour Noise Leads to Violence

We are so often reminded through the stories in the press of how often noise issues can result in, or be associated with, aggressive or violent behaviour. Dozens of people have died in recent years after being involved in a dispute about neighbour noise. So many neighbour noise cases appear to be ending in violence. We once reported on a horrific attack of one disabled man who dared to complain to his neighbour about his barking dog; and often highlight the fact that anti-social behaviour and noise pollution can lead to violence.

However, despite the reports of violence and terrible newspaper headlines, the number of people harmed in neighbour disputes about noise is minute if you compare it to the number of complaints that are made to local authorities each year; a whopping 500,000.

Mental health issues are clearly a significant concern when it comes to noise (be it the poor health of the perpetrator or the sufferer). Inappropriate living conditions, particularly in relation to densely populated accommodation, can have an influence on poor health; as can, in some cases, social isolation.

One of the main outcomes provided by environmental health services, now continually stretched and often under resourced, is the protection/reduction of mental health and well-being through noise control and improvement of housing standards. It is important that, where mental health issues are already a factor involved in noise cases that they liaise with social services, social landlords and other health professionals if it is deemed appropriate.

Alcohol and drug issues also play a significant part in the causes of anti-social behaviour. Dealing with the route causes can help prevent or reduce nuisance and it is important that investigating authorities don’t just address the symptoms of anti-social behaviour. Anti-social behaviour legislation now encourages enforcing authorities and social landlords to find positive solutions to anti-social behaviour.

We know that intervening in a noise issue can sometimes result in confrontation if not completed carefully. If your neighbour has not displayed examples of aggressive or threatening behaviour, and is in good health, you should not be afraid of approaching them. However, the way you approach your neighbour should be considered carefully beforehand. Do everything you can to avoid confrontation and remember that ongoing issues (regular noise incidents) do not have to be settled on the night of the disturbance. Avoid visiting late night parties or approaching groups of people; particularly if drugs and alcohol are involved. Pick a suitable moment later in the week and use a calm and friendly tone.

Never use sound to retaliate over noise issues as this may result in a counter claim and damage your chances of resolving the issue amicably.

Noise Pollution Times – When is it OK to Make Noise?

Noise Pollution Times – When is it OK?

One of the questions that we often get asked is “what time is it OK to make noise until?”. The simple answer to that question is that there is no such time specified in statutory nuisance law for noise pollution times; noise can amount to a nuisance at any time. However, in the Noise Act “night-time” is specified as being between the hours of 11pm and 7am; and noise is particularly significant in terms of likelihood for disturbance between these hours.

Clearly, the later the noise the more likely that it will be to disturb and annoy. The frequency of occurrence is also important and other variable factors such as the proximity of other residents and how loud it is. A one-off house party is unlikely to be considered a problem. However, there are circumstances where it would become unreasonable, for example where:

  • It continues well beyond midnight;
  • Where there are sensitive complainants next door (e.g. young children);
  • Where it is taking place outside in a residential area (noise is very intrusive at night);
  • Where there is loud amplified music or a band.

Anyone wishing to party at their home beyond 11pm in a garden or marquee, or with music outside, should consider a licensed venue as a more appropriate alternative. Informing their immediate neighbours will rarely be sufficient or effective.

Responding on the Night to Noise

Unless your Council provides a night-time response service it is unlikely they will be able to attend to noise on the night that it is occurring. In such cases, a one-off party will have fizzled out before they have the opportunity to respond (and, in such cases, they are unlikely to be able to respond retrospectively). More regular disturbances can be dealt with proactively by the Council and are worth reporting.

Where a Council does have an “out-of-hours” service at night they will be able to respond quickly on the night. In most cases they will attempt to effect an amicable solution to one-off parties by advising the occupant to reduce the noise and bring people inside. They can take formal action if the noise continues into the early hours and the occupant has refused or taken little (or no) action to abate nuisance.

Construction and Maintenance Works

With regards noise pollution times and building works there is a British Standard that supports the legislation that may be imposed on the construction industry. It suggests that noisy construction or demolition work may take place from 8am to 6pm with a shoulder hour either side (effectively, then, 7am to 7pm). However, there are occasions where work will take place outside those times and at night. Examples of where night-time work is often permitted include on major or trunk roads (for example, where emergency work is needed to services or where disruption would cause significant transport issues) or track-side maintenance on railway systems. Where large infrastructure projects cause sleep disturbance repeatedly, night after night, the Council may use the prejudicial to health limb of the statutory nuisance powers to minimise impact.

When considering permitted hours for noisy construction works it is important to be flexible in your approach. Councils that apply rigid policies precluding evening or weekend works may subject particularly sensitive receptors like schools or clinics to a great deal of avoidable noise. In addition, depending upon the length of the project, it may be preferable to endure a period of evening and weekend works if that significantly reduces the length of the project. More on construction noise.

Find out more and get professional one-to-one advice. Check out our Resources.